‘Cause shoulda woulda coulda, can’t change your mind…*

*from song (2002) by Beverley Knight / Craig Wiseman https://youtu.be/HbCEImvJ1b4

randi (randi2204) wrote in fandom_grammar, 2015-11-06:

If you can’t be good, be careful.

As children, we were always being told to behave, or sometimes just to be good.  As adults, however, those admonishments changed to “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” or, perhaps, to “If you can’t be good, be careful.”  It might be preferred that you just be good—not engage in risky or immoral behavior while you’re out having fun—but if you just have to be bad, be sensible about it, or at least keep it from coming to the attention of the authorities.

The saying was first published in this form in 1903, when Arthur M. Binstead said in his Pitcher in Paradise, “Always bear in mind what the country mother said to her daughter who was coming up to town to be apprenticed to the Bond Street millinery, ‘For heaven’s sake be good; but if you can’t be good, be careful’.” However, the meaning behind the expression is a lot older than that.  It comes from the 11th century Latin proverb Si non caste, tamen caute, which translates as “if not chastely, nevertheless cautiously.”

There are many variations on this saying, several along the lines of “Be good.  And if you can’t be good, be careful.  And if you can’t be careful, name it after me.”  Given those additions, you have a hierarchy of behavior to work with!

Of course, some people don’t need any help in making trouble:

Buffy and Spike set out on patrol—or was it a date? Willow wondered if it wasn’t a little of both.

Beside her, Xander waved at their backs.  “See you later!” he called.  “Be good tonight!  And if you can’t be good, be careful!”

Willow elbowed him sharply in the side. “Don’t say that!” she hissed.  “We want them to be both good and careful!”

Needs must when the devil drives.

This saying is an old one, as might be obvious.  It appears to have its origins in the Middle Ages, and first appeared as “He must nedys go that the deuell dryues” in John Lydgate’s Assembly of Gods.  Shakespeare used it in a number of his plays as well.  In more recent times, it’s been shortened to simply “needs must” and even that sounds old-fashioned to our modern ear.

Our first saying was about things that we want to do; this saying is about things we have to do, even if we don’t want to do them…If the need is great enough, you do what you must.  In other words, necessity compels…

Giles is well versed in how necessity compels:

Buffy surveyed the battle plan hastily scribbled on the notepad.  “I don’t know, Giles… I don’t really want Willow to be over here without anyone to guard her while she’s casting the spell.”

Giles rubbed his brow.  “I know, Buffy, but we are spread very thin already.  We need everyone else in their positions.  Willow assures me that she’ll be all right for a few minutes.  Needs must when the devil drives.”

Buffy looked up with a frown.  “Where is the devil driving?”

Whether or not our characters want to do something, they’ll always have something to do in our stories.  Proverbs can add color to your descriptions but it’s best to bear in mind that in writing necessity doesn’t always compel use.”

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